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Session programme


GDB – Great Debates


    Career advances in academia is commonly considered to be meritocratic, meaning that there is a believe that anyone can succeed and be successful with hard-work and dedication. Discussions around the risk of bias inherent to a meritocratic system are increasing. A merit-based system 'discriminates' on the basis of how much 'merit' a person has, favouring those who have more of it – or are perceived to have more of it.
    Discussions around meritocracy focus on two immediate issues. It assumes as a pre-condition that everyone has equal opportunities to access and, consequently, acquire merits. And also, that the assessment of merits is not always shaped and influenced by objective criteria that predict performance to the future task or position.
    Regarding the first condition, the average share of women STEM in EU-28 made up 39 % of graduates at doctoral level and 35 % of grade C, 28 % of grade B and 15 % of grade A academic staff (SHE FIGURES 2018). The leaky-pipe phenomenon undermines the quality of research and represents an invaluable loss to academia, economy and society. The underrepresentation of women in higher echelons and leadership positions in academia is a complex matter hardly justified by purely meritocratic criteria.
    In terms of the second condition, the criteria that predict performance depend on the quality of the assessment. Fair assessment and decisions require two conditions: i) all people are perfectly rational (and unbiased) at all times; ii) all people have access to correct information. Neither of these are trivial.
    This session will focus on what to do to avoid the loss of female talent in academia as well as to promote gender equality.

    Public information:
    Helen M. Glaves - Vice-President of the EGU

    Alberto Montanari - President of the EGU

    Mary Anne Holmes
    A sedimentologist who uses social science research to address inequity in the geosciences. She is a former Director and co-PI of ADVANCE-Nebraska at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (ADVANCE is a National Science Foundation [NSF] program to increase the number of women on STEM faculty), PI on two geoscience ADVANCE awards, former ADVANCE Program Officer at NSF; past President of the Association for Women Geoscientists; co-editor of “Women in the Geosciences: Practical, Positive Practices towards Parity” (Wiley, 2015) and serves on half a dozen advisory boards for ADVANCE programs across the U.S.

    Ligia Pérez-Cruz
    President of the Mexican Geophysical Union (UGM). In this position she has contributed to promote the geosciences in Mexico and the Americas. The UGM Annual Meeting is the largest in Latin America with more than 1000 participants. She is the Director of the Research Vessels “Justo Sierra” and “El Puma” of the National University of Mexico (UNAM). The vessels have navigated conducting oceanography and marine geophysics expeditions in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of California, the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. She is a researcher in the Institute of Geophysics at UNAM. Her research focuses on paleoclimate reconstructions, the Chicxulub Impact and, Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and other hyperthermal events during the Cenozoic. She has participated in more than 40 oceanographic expeditions, including IODP expeditions 364 and 385.

    Mathias Wullum Nielsen, Ph.D.
    Associate professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He is a sociologist by training and holds a Ph.D. in social science from Aarhus University. His research focuses on gender in science, including how gender diversity is linked to knowledge outcomes. His Ph.D. dissertation, entitled “New and Persistent Gender Equality Challenges in Academia” was defended in 2015, after which he undertook postdoctoral research in Gendered Innovations at Stanford University. He is currently a part of the European Commission’s “Gendered Innovations 2” Expert Group. Dr. Nielsen has published numerous papers on the topic of gender in science, including pieces in Nature Human Behaviour, PNAS, eLife and Research Policy.

    Convener: Alberto Montanari | Co-conveners: Robin Bell, Hodaka Kawahata, Robin Robertson

    The UN widely promotes the Sustainable Development Goals, 17 common goals to a sustainable future for our planet and its citizens. By 2030 Europe aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% (compared with 1990). The accelerating exploitation of our ecosystems has been highlighted annually by Earth Overshoot Days. The urgent need to combat climate change requires that we significantly increase use of clean energies and energy storage and decrease our non-energy emissions (e.g. through electric vehicles, better building materials). But the infrastructure needed for the transition to a low-carbon society will require the production and consumption of vast amounts of mineral products, not only the much publicised critical metals but also more common mineral products like copper, iron and sand.
    The circular economy has been lauded as a solution to the increased demand on resources and related climate impacts. Reducing waste and improving efficiencies are essential. However, given (i) increasing populations and improving living standards globally, (ii) the decades-long duration that many raw materials are in use, (iii) the difficulties and/or environmental impact of recovering and recycling some materials, and (iv) the strain on our energy, land and water resources, it is time to define the role of the geoscience community in managing Earth resources and achieving a more sustainable future.
    We will also need to provide our expertise to the wider public conversations about our natural resources: Is it reasonable the public think the circular economy can be applied to all items we consume? Where will substitutions come from? And will they in turn impact on our environment? One of our responsibilities must be to communicate effectively with politicians, industry and the general public to strengthen the science message.
    We must also identify priorities. If we are to move to PV and wind energy and reduce emissions through electric vehicles, what impact will this have on demand for natural resources? Would the public support mining to achieve a ‘carbon neutral’ future? This is complicated by Europe’s dependence on imported metals, possibly from countries with ethical, human rights and environmental breaches. Would Europeans apply locavore logic to minerals and condone the opening of new local mines?
    This Great Debate will generate open discussion about our natural resources and our role as Earth Scientists in achieving a more sustainable future.

    Convener: Aoife Braiden | Co-convener: Nick Arndt

    Scientists who travel frequently for conferences or fieldwork are under pressure to justify their (large) carbon footprint. With the increased power of technology for both online streaming and remote observations, should the number of people attending conferences and going on fieldwork decrease? What are the benefits of attending a conference in person or going on fieldwork, and does that outweigh the negative of an enhanced carbon footprint?

    During this Great Debate, we will discuss two activities that currently contribute greatly to our carbon footprint: 1) conference attendance and 2) data acquisition through fieldwork. For the first topic, we will focus on the question: what are the advantages and disadvantages of attending conferences in person, which often includes long-range travelling, instead of online streaming the conference? For the second topic we address the question: with the increasing number of remote observations, should scientists still be travelling long distances for fieldwork?

    Convener: Jenny TurtonECSECS | Co-conveners: Raffaele AlbanoECSECS, Anouk BeniestECSECS, Annegret LarsenECSECS, David Vaughan

    Several recent reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) discuss the role of forests in the climate system. The IPCC Special Report on 1.5OC speaks of the potential of forests to take up CO2 and concludes that substantial afforestation efforts (with a potential of up to 3.6 GtCO2 yr−1, medium confidence) would be required in pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot. At the same time, the IPCC special report on land approved in August 2019 concludes that at the deployment scale of several GtCO2 per year the adverse side effects for adaptation, desertification, land degradation and food security would be expected with a high degree of confidence. But do we understand well what is the total footprint of the forest? There is an increase in greening observed from the satellites which demonstrate the fertilization effect, but forests are not only taking up CO2, they are also sources of methane and reactive constituents that impact climate on a short term.
    The proposed great debate will address different opinions on the mitigation potential of forests.

    Convener: Oksana Tarasova | Co-convener: Claudia VolosciukECSECS

    The way in which people receive and share information has changed rapidly since the introduction of the internet and social media. This has, in some cases, assisted the rise of fake news and misinformation which is challenging the scientific community, policymaking and democracy as we know it. Scientists are trained to undertake impartial research that is built on a strong, theoretical foundation and communicate the results without emotion and injecting a storyline or opinion into research communication is often considered to have the potential to both threaten an individual’s scientific integrity and the reputation of the scientific community as a whole. But with the prevalence of fake news, populism and misinformation increasing, do we as scientists need to re-think the way we communicate our science?

    After all, it’s not only facts that influence our individual and societal decision-making, but also values and social relations. Perhaps scientists do need to be trained in emotional literacy and in the use of framing, metaphors and narratives to more effectively communicate their science on an emotional level and reduce the power of those spreading misinformation.

    This Great Debate will outline what makes people believe fake news and misinformation and the impact that this has. It will debate how researchers can communicate their research with people who reject traditional science narratives, when scientists should tap into their audiences' emotions and if the apparent choice between “fact” and “feeling” is a false dilemma.

    Convener: Noel BakerECSECS | Co-conveners: Cathelijne Stoof, Hazel GibsonECSECS

    "Publish or perish" is the motto for Fast Science. All Early Career Scientists (ECS) are well aware that the scientific landscape has become a publication factory. Fast Science prefers quantity over quality thereby bringing scientific publishers to the limit, promoting “salami”-publishing, meaning the publication of the smallest publishable unit in a study, and creating a proliferation of articles that overwhelm the system and threaten the effectiveness of the peer review. The maximum three-year turnover of project grants causes a lack of longer-term, comprehensively monitored data-sets, contributing to incremental, not fundamental, discoveries. Researchers are challenged to publish at a high frequency, gain international experience, receive outstanding teaching evaluations and acquire multiple scholarships and grants, while at the same time they have a private life to balance. It is no surprise that last year's ECS debate centred around mental health problems. Alternatively, the Slow Science Movement (http://slow-science.org/) is based on the belief that science should be a slow, steady, methodical process and that scientists should not be expected to provide "quick solutions" to society's problems. Slow Science supports curious scientific research and opposes performance targets.
    During this Great Debate, we will discuss the alternatives to Fast Science. Is Slow Science a realistic movement? What can we learn from it and what are the disadvantages compared to Fast Science? Would it be possible to integrate this concept of Slow Science into the current scientific landscape and create more sustainable science? Should we aim to publish coherent stories instead of splitting them up, thereby focusing on the real knowledge gain and scientific advances?
    The attendees will share their opinions in small groups discussing one of the following topics, each revolving around the themes raised above. After the group-internal discussion phase, the main points from each group will be shared between the groups to continue further discussion and debate.

    Convener: Annegret LarsenECSECS | Co-conveners: Michael DietzeECSECS, Raffaele Albano, Anouk BeniestECSECS